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tv   Moyers Company  PBS  December 23, 2012 5:00pm-6:00pm PST

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foundation. the clements foundation, park foundation, dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues. the herb alfred foundation, supporting organizations whose mission is to promote compassion and creativity in our society. the bernard and audrey rappaport foundation. and the betsey fink foundation. barbara g. fleischmann and by our sole corporate sponsor, mutual of america, designing group, individual, and retirement products. that's why we're your retirement company. welcome. the bells rang for the lost. charlotte bacon, olivia engle,
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anna marquez green, catherine hubbard, emilie parker, jack pinto, noah posner, jessica ricos, benjamin wheeler, and allison wyatt. all were 6 years old. daniel barden and grace mcdonald were 7. six adults died with them. mary sherlock, dawn hochsprung, victoria soto. it helps to say their names to rescue them from the statistical anonymity that always settles over these awful events. it helps those of us distanced from the loss to imagine to even grieve the emptiness of the
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homes and hearts of those who loved them. we will never forget. we mourn, move on, and too soon forget. then it will happen again some day. we'll scratch our heads and ask ourselves, was the last time newtown or columbine? was it aurora or that college in virginia? once again, we will mourn, move on, and too soon forget. there is an old saying that in remembrance is the secret of redemption. but america forgets quickly and gives no lasting indication it seems redemption from its fetish with guns, its romance with the free market of violence, with the sport of it all. the show must go on. it's our right. at any price. what were their names again? oh, yes. charlotte, daniel, olivia, daniel, allison, dawn.
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poor things. such a tragedy. praise the lord and pass the ammunition. so we make our peace with violence and make ourselves over in its image. a state senator in missouri, a lifetime member of the national rifle association, is pushing a bill to require that all first graders be enrolled in the nra's gun safety course. 6 and 7 years old. pledge allegiance to the flag, lock and load our new head start. a state senator in tennessee's republican legislature says he will introduce a bill that would allow the state to pay for secretly armed teachers in classrooms. ms. simpson packing heat. hey, it's show and tell. can we see your glock nine?
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an elementary school student near salt lake city brought a gun to school saying he wanted to protect his friends. instead, he allegedly used it to threaten his classmates. as the good book say, get with it. train up a child, and when he is old, he will not depart for it. ready, aim, fire. for the child who has everything this season, how about body armor? a utah company named amendment two offers a new line of it for kids. mother jones magazine reports sales have tripled in one week. a massachusetts company is promoting the bullet blocker, a rugged computer backpack designed for work or play, made of the same materials used in bulletproof police vests currently on sale for the holidays for $199.99. on facebook, an outfit called
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black dragon tactical that sells vests and other combat gear sent this message. arm the teachers. in the meantime, bulletproof the kids. this market never closes. america's turned violence into a profit center. if you haven't finished your christmas shopping, no need to wait for santa. his sleigh couldn't even hold the heavy weapons. step this way. black friday is every day. we have something for everyone from cradle to grave. from cradle to grave. surely this can't go on, this spilling of innocent blood, this bleeding of democracy's soul. we're losing faith in ourselves. acting as subjects, not citizens. no longer believing that it's in our power to do the right thing. we americans are not smarter than other people and certainly no more virtuous. but our exceptionalism is our capacity for self-correction to
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reach the bridge of the ship, port to the iceberg dead ahead and demand that the captain change course before it's too late. they, the gun industry, its profiteers, zealots, and apoll gists, its political stooges and constitutional originalists who would think that the 18th century really means perpetuating a wild wet here in the 20th century. don't tread on us. get off our well-armed backs. there's nothing you can do. of course there is. register all guns, license all gun owners. require stringent background checks. get tough on assault weapons of any kind. crack down on high capacity ammunition, as the president has now proposed. then, enforce the laws. yes, i know. determined killers will always
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find a way, but we can minimize the opportunities and scale back the scope of destruction. why do we accept the need for driver's licenses or submit to the sometimes humiliating body scans at airports? because it's the law, and deep down we know we're safer for the inconvenience of the law. good laws are hard to come by. civilization, just as hard. the rough and tumble of politics makes them so. but democracy aims for a moral order as just as humanly possible, which means laws that protect the weak and not just the strong. lest we forget.
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we've seen throughout our history what happens when politics doesn't work, when democracy breaks down. the greatest, most heartbreaking problem was the failure toll solve slavery, a failure that l led to civil war. even then, it took a last act of
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political courage and prowess to permanently abolish slavery with the 13th amendment to the constitution. this is the story told in the beautiful motion picture "lincoln" starring daniel day lewis and sally field. the film presents the 16th president as an astute, capable pragmatist. >> shall we stop this bleeding? abolishing slavery settles the fate for millions now in bondage. and unborn millions to come. >> either the amendment or this confederate piece you cannot move forward. >> don't waste that power. >> only hundreds of thousands have died under your administration. >> we must cure ourselves of
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slavery. this amendment is that cure! >> god help us for trapping you in a marriage that's only ever given you free. >> the fate of human dignity is in our hands. blood has been spilt to afford us this moment now, now, now! >> we are guaranteed to lose the whole thing. >> leave the constitution alone! >> you insult god. >> you think they'll keep their promise? >> i am the president of the united states of america. clothed in immense power. >> the movie and its performers are remarkable, but much of the film's power, its eloquence and percepti perception, its observation on the unchanging nature of governance comes in its screen play based in part on the book "team of rivals." recently, the script received
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the new york film critics circle award, one of what will doubtless be many honors. tony first came to most people's attention with the epic play "angels in america," a devastating account of the a.i.d.s. epidemic while it was at its worst. tony received both a tony award and the pulitzer prize for drama as well as a primetime emmy award for its television adaptation on hbo. that was some 20 years ago. in the years since, tony's reputation as one of our most accomplished and sometimes controversial modern play writes has only grown. welcome. >> thank you. >> you said you worked six years. how did you go about the research? >> i just started reading. we started with doris' book. i was curious to read it. it's a great read and a great book, but it's the definition of
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a thing that can turn into a 2 1/2 hour script. i knew immediately from what i had read there was going to be too much material if we tried to cover the whole thing and the civil war as well. we would do one of those horrible things that's like all the high points. he does this. he delivers the gettysburg attention. that's no fun to watch. it's not dramatic. the pace of it and the rhythm of it is determined by research and biography, which is not dramatically constructed. you know, it's just what happens. to organize the film around a series of core conflicts, we'd have to pick something. i said, let's just do the last four months. there's something in the last four months that can stand in for every single major kind of conflict that lincoln had to contends with. >> the last four months of his life. >> january, february, march -- >> '65. >> so i wrote a screen play. 500 pages long. i gave it to stephen.
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stephen is always surprising. after he read the first 150 pages, he said, i love this. i'll read the rest of it, but this is a movie. i thought, that's great to hear, but you can't make -- it's the first movie about abraham lincoln in 72 years except for the vampire killer thing. you can't make the fist movie about lincoln about the passage of the 13th amendment. hardly anybody knows how that happened. stephen just kept coming back to that saying, that's the exciting thing. he said when he first read it, he said, i knew that the amendment passed, but i sat there wondering if it was going to pass when i was watching the vote. >> he is clearly one of the most methologized figures in all of history. here you and stephen spielberg come trying to put flesh and blood back into this icon. was there a moment when you suddenly saw into the character, saw what you were looking at to make the man come alive? >> yeah, there were a couple. one was a letter that seward
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wrote to his wife fanny. >> secretary of state, lincoln's chief adviser. >> and chief rival for the president in 1860. he had advised lincoln in the 50s. he said you should focus on slavery, it's a really good angle. that's the difference between lincoln and seward. lincoln was anti-slavery. he was hated by the anti-slavery left because he had made too many compromises. he could smell, not a rat because he was a really great man, but they could see he wasn't as serious as he needed to be. lincoln was very serious about it, but seward gave him advice that lincoln took and built his career as an anti-slavery centrist politician. there's a letter seward wrote to francis about eight months, i think, into the first term.
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and he says our rail splitter grows daily in, i think it's strength and compassion. but he uses these two words that we usually think of as being antithetical to one another. and those two, that was a big thing. it's getting that impossible combination, and part of what lincoln shows us is that you can be both. you can hang onto your humanity and be a great war leader. you can not sacrifice the ability to suffer with those that you see suffer and at the same time, you know, retain the name of action. you can keep doing things and be decisive. being thoughtful is not antithetical to being decisive. >> there was a scene that i knew immediately when we saw the movie i had to ask you about. lincoln walks from the white house to the telegraph center where he went regularly to receive messages from his generals and his reports from
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the battlefield. and he's sitting there almost as if he's talking to the two telegraph operators, but it's really a soliloquy in which he talks about euclid. >> euclid's first common notion is this: 'things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other.' that's a rule of mathematical reasoning. it's true because it works. has done and always will do. in his book, euclid says this is self-evident. you see, there it is. even in that 2,000 year old book of mechanical law, it is a self- evident truth that things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other." >> what led you to include that scene? >> i was fascinated to read that when he was already grown, lincoln, you know, we have a list of books that we know he
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read when he was a kid and that when he was in his 30s i think after he was defeated for congress he decided to read euclid to improve his reasoning. >> father of geometry. >> right. and i thought, that's weird. why wouldn't you read a book of traditional rhetoric or of logic. why would you read geometry? and then i thought but of course because lincoln wasn't just a linear thinker. lincoln thought volumetrically. and i got the book, and even though i'm essentially innumerate, and didn't do well in geometry at all, i decided to try and read it and see is there anything interesting here. and this is the very first, one of the very first things you read is this a self, this is a self-evident truth about equality that euclid starts his introduction into how the physical universe in a sense is constructed and can be comprehended by talking about equality. and i thought, well you know, lincoln, nothing escapes him,
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and this is an interesting thing. and so when i was -- this is a moment. this is the moment of great decision where he has to decide whether he's going to try and actually push the amendment through to end slavery or seize at an opportunity to end the war with slavery still very much on the table. and this was the big dramatic moment of decision. >> there's a scene early on in the movie, lincoln is riding through the streets of washington in his carriage with secretary of state seward, his chief advisor and enforcer. and seward is apparently trying to convince him that this is not the time to push the amendment. >> we'll win the war, sir. it's inevitable isn't it? >> well, it ain't won yet. >> you'll begin your second term a semi-divine stature. imagine the possibilities peace will bring. why tarnish your invaluable luster with a battle in the house? it's a rat's nest in there, the same gang of talentless hicks and hacks who rejected the amendment ten months ago, we'll
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lose. >> i like our chances now. >> i like our chances now, lincoln's actual words or tony kushner's dramatic license? >> you know, i can't remember with that line. >> you don't know where you start and lincoln stops? >> there are a few places that i know are me and a few places that i know are him. i didn't write the second inaugural address, i wish i had. i can't remember that. it's definitely in the spirit. >> you say you chose to focus on this fight to pass the constitutional amendment in the house. it had already passed in the -- >> senate. >> -- in january of 1865, just a few weeks there. frame for us the significance of that fight. what is actually going on that we should have cared about? >> the senate had passed the amendment to abolish slavery the year, the spring before. and the house had defeated it, the republicans had a majority but not a supermajority. and you need two-thirds of the house and the senate to pass a constitutional amendment. so lincoln made this decision.
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he didn't do it hugely, publicly, although he let it be known that the administration was behind this surprising introduction of this failed bill to amend the constitution back into the house. and he and seward concocted a campaign of offering jobs to convince 20 lame duck democrats to vote. and it passed by two votes. i think the importance for lincoln was the sense that he had, you know, and he said it in 1858, a house divided against, you know, we can't exist half slave and half free. i think that lincoln felt that the war literally could not come to an end with slavery on the table, that even if that-- civil war stopped the country would eventually fall apart again over the issue of slavery. and the issue of slavery expanding in the west was an enormous concern for everyone. and lincoln felt that slavery was antithetical to the democratic experiment. and he what he says in the
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gettysburg address, "this is a proposition, we're testing a proposition," he meant it literally. democracy was a radical idea in the middle of the 19th century still. all of europe in 1848 was in flames about whether or not they were going to have democracies or monarchies. and the world didn't know yet whether or not democracy was simply another name for chaos. and the coherence of a people's government which is what he saying in the gettysburg address was an important thing to prove, not just that we could create a government of the people, but that it could endure a terrible test. and i think that he felt that to have the war end without slavery being eliminated -- >> once and for all, not just with the emancipation proclamation-- >> -- had once and for all, right. >> -- but by the constitution. >> right, and i think that you see how important that was to him and that he tried to and succeeded in getting the house to pass it, at the same to keep his party which was enormously, it's the like democratic party
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today, it's blue dog democrats, there were sort of blue dog republicans. half the republican party was conservative and weren't sure that they liked, they were anti-slavery but they believed in sort of gradual emancipation over they, thought that by 1900 it can sort of just wither out on its own. and to keep those guys from jumping the fence and voting with the democrats against the amendment which would have made it impossible. so he had to do this balancing act between apparently pursuing a peace plan and pushing the amendment through at the same time. that seemed to me emblematic of the most remarkable moments of his administration, and there were several such where the north really exhausted by war, i mean, this horrible, bloody war, the north began to lose its will to fight. so he had to balance all the way through. >> there's a scene in the movie that is without words, it's one of the most moving scenes when lincoln is riding his horse
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through the battlefield of petersburg, the bodies piled up like cordwood and the blood still in the mud. do you think he might have changed his mind about pushing forward if he had anticipated the death and the blood? >> i don't think so. i think that he believed so profoundly in democracy as an idea and so deeply that his oath to protect and preserve the constitution of the united states meant that secession was not to be allowed. he didn't believe the states had seceded. he believed that the states were still there and that these criminals who were in rebellion against the united states had taken over the apparatuses of the states. so it was a fight over who was going to control reconstruction as well as i think a philosophical, no, the constitution doesn't mention slavery and it doesn't mention secession. so whether or not it's permissible, you know, the way
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that you get out of the union once you're in is not something i think wisely that the founding fathers decided to, you know, address. and it left the question open, and lincoln's interpretation which i agree with is, you know, you can't opt out of civilization; you can't opt out of the social contract. and secession is another name for the beginnings of a kind of social disintegration. i mean, by the end of the civil war alabama was threatening to secede from the confederacy. just a couple of weeks ago when the texans said, "we're going to secede from the united states," austin said, "well, good, then we're seceding from texas." and that's the way it tends to go, it will disintegrate. and the idea of preserving a union, the mystical idea of a union, i think he got how essential that was for the whole thing to work. so the cost was horrendous, i mean, we now think maybe as many as 800,000, not the 600,000. and this is, i think a very gentle man who suffered terribly at the thought of this kind of dying and death and, you know,
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was devoted to his soldiers. when he won in '64 reelection, that he won a majority of the soldiers' vote, which i think is incredibly moving 'cause these guys knew that if they voted for mcclellan the war would be over and they could all go home. so they voted for the man who was going to keep them in the field and risk their lives in these terrible deaths that soldiers were dying because they believed in this thing so strongly. and he said, i'd rather have lost the entire election and won the soldiers' vote than won the election and lost the soldiers. >> what about the scene where you, where the amendment is in doubt, lincoln himself seems skeptical that they're going to make it, and seward has been pushing him to be careful, not to let it be known that he's around town trying to rouse up votes. and they're in the theater and mary lincoln turns -- well, let's look at it. >> you think i'm ignorant of what you're up to because you haven't discussed this scheme with me as you ought to have done.
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when have i ever been so easily bamboozled? i believe you when you insist that amending the constitution and abolishing slavery will end this war and since you are sending our son into the war, woe into you if you fail to pass the amendment. >> seward doesn't want me leaving big muddy footprints all over town. >> no one has ever lived who knows better than you the proper placement of footfalls on treacherous paths. seward can't do it. you must. because if you fail to acquire the necessary votes, woe unto you sir, you will answer to me. >> you will answer to me. why did you put that scene in? for what reason? >> well, you know, i mean, partly because i think it spoke a provable truth about their relationship which is that she, you know, he left her at the altar famously and went into what we think of as a great depression. my feeling was that he knew that if you married mary todd you
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weren't going to stay a circuit lawyer in illinois and that she was going to make him step into his role. i don't think it's the thing pascal says, anyone who's a genius and doesn't know it probably isn't one, i think lincoln knew from the time he was a boy that he was able to do things intellectually that most people couldn't do. and i think he knew that his particular genius weirdly was not so much as a writer because i don't think he could have written just essays he wasn't emerson. i think he knew that his genius was in politics which is a strange amalgam field. and i think he knew as everyone knew in the middle of the 19th century the main issue was going to be what was going to happen to slavery and could the country cohere. we knew this from the really from the constitutional era on. and i think he was terrified. it's a garden of gethsemane moment, it's like do i have to take up this cup of poison? he knew what would become of the person who stepped into the center of that crucible. and he also knew that it was probably his destiny that he had to that he alone of all people
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in the united states, i believe, really saw how to do this. certainly no one else gave us any evidence of having been able to do the whole thing. and i think he ran from her because he was running from that terrible destiny. i think that you want to see a marriage that had that degree of importance. and i absolutely think it's plausible whether she's that particular formulation or not, that she went and listened to those debates, we know that, and that she, you know, if for no other reason than he wanted it and so she was determined that he was going to get it. a month later when sumner rejected the delegates for to be seated as congress people from louisiana which lincoln really wanted sumner got up and filibustered and destroyed their chances of being seated, mary wanted to, she literally wanted him murdered because he had
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defied her husband. >> in that same vein later in the movie mary tells her husband, "all anyone will remember is that i was crazy and i ruined your happiness." do we know if she really said that? >> i'm almost certain she probably never did, although i think she thought it. and i think she was afraid of that. i think that she was very self-aware and very self-punishing and didn't know how to fix that image problem except to get angry at the people who were assailing her and then make the image problem worse until at some point she finally sort of gave up on the idea that anybody was ever going to really like her. but she didn't really see her job in life to be liked. her job in life was to protect him. she adored him. she made his life difficult. he also made her life difficult. i think she's gotten a terrible bum rap.
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i think she was -- >> well, because we think of her as a lunatic. she wasn't. what mary lincoln endured in the white house is beyond telling. i mean, the death of her son, willie, in '62, this carriage accident on the eve of the gettysburg battle where her head was literally split open and she had brain damage clearly that lasted for the rest of her life, these horrendous headaches. she really almost died, it was an assassination attempt probably. somebody loosened the pins on the carriage that she and lincoln were riding in and it smashed into a tree and she cracked her head open. and you know, she'd already lost a son many years before and he was a very difficult husband. he was as everyone says incredibly dear and warm and available and a great listener and sympathetic and funny. and at the same time the people who loved him the most said he was cold as ice and removed and could be completely ruthless when he needed to be in terms of his political maneuverings and a strange character. and he really was that. and i think, you know, he would go to her room many nights, and she believed in ghosts and the afterlife as a lot of people did back then, and he would tell her these terrifying dreams that he
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had. and he would go to her many nights and says, "by the way, i had a dream last night that the white house burned down and you and tad were in it and you were burning up and i couldn't get in to save you and you burned to the--" and then he said then, "so have a good night," and walked out. so he wasn't easy. i think, she came from one of the great political families in kentucky. she was proposed marriage to by all three men who ran for president in 1860. she danced with lincoln and ten minutes after meeting him for the first time turned to her cousin, said, "i've just danced with the greatest man of our era. he's going to be president of the united states." she got it completely. and you know, everybody goes on about how much money she spent and the dresses and everything. but what they overlook is she had no budget. buchanan and the presidents before him had let the white house disintegrate. she understood political theater because she was a great political wife. there was no federal government when they arrived in washington and she had to build a backdrop that would convince ambassadors
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from great britain and france for instance that the federal government was coherent and enormously powerful. so she made the white house into a showplace. and it became that. it was the emblem of the authority of the president. and she knew he had to have that -- >> and typically congress was constantly prosecuting them, or at least -- >> her. >> well, and not without cause. she did sell his annual address to congress to a newspaper to raise money. it wasn't a good thing to do. but -- >> but i loved the scene that you have with her and -- >> and thaddeus -- >> thaddeus stevens, the republican radical congressman from -- >> pennsylvania. >> pennsylvania played by tommy lee jones. here it is. >> mrs. lincoln. >> madame president, if you please. oh, don't convene another subcommittee to investigate me. sir! i'm teasing. smile senator wade. senator wade in lincoln: i believe i am smiling mrs. lincoln. >> as long as your household accounts are in order madam we'll have no need to investigate them. >> you have always taken such a lively even prosecutorial
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interest in my household accounts. >> your household accounts have always been so interesting. >> yes, thank you, it's true. the miracles i have wrought out of fertilizer bills and cutlery invoices, but i had to. >> such character. >> yeah. >> i mean, shines through. >> she was a brilliant, brilliant woman. and she hated the radicals' guts because they tried to actually indict her. lincoln stepped in and stopped them from doing it, but -- >> because? >> well, he didn't want a scandal -- >> but why did they want to indict her? >> she was doing some fishy things. she had no budget. lincoln's entire staff was two secretaries and an old footmen who were inherited from, you know, the monroe administration. she knew that she had to make an impression in washington, and she was determined to do that. so i think that the expenses are understandable. and as is the heartbreaking story of her life after he died. people are so uncharitable about it and say, "see, it's proof." i mean, robert had to put her in a mental hospital at one point. and she was this homeless woman trying to sell her dresses. and she had money but she was convinced that she didn't have
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it. >> i thought you were superbly sensitive to the grief that bound them even though it also separated them, each grieved differently. but in their grief they seemed to find something in each other. >> well, i think that's exactly right. and i think he found something in her inability to control it. i mean, i think that, you know, i've certainly known marriages like this where not only the domestic labor but the intellectual and the moral and the emotional labor gets divided. and frequently in traditional marriages the wife becomes the carrier, the worker in the fields of emotional labor. and in some way i believe, that's why i think he told her -- she was like his shrink. you deposit these terrible feelings with somebody and then you can stay contained. i mean, stanton in at the private funeral for lincoln said he was the most perfect governor of men because he was the most perfect governor of himself. and there was this terrifying internal discipline that always comes at a cost.
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and i think she helped carry the emotional baggage for the two of them. she had a very vivid sense that the blood that had been spilled would come back to haunt them at some point. so they shared a lot of an ability to grief, i think. >> as you wrote were you haunted by the anticipation of assassination to come? >>well, you know, there are ways in which he seemed to have anticipated it, and because everything that happened in lincoln's life is unbelievable, i mean, she ordered the entire cannon of shakespeare printed volume by volume -- following the order in the first folio from this fancy place in new york. they would send a play a month, i think. and on i believe the day before the assassination, on april 14th, one of the volumes arrived, and of course it's julius caesar which she of course thought was an omen. and it turned out she was right. but you know, watching him die, i don't know how anybody survived it.
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the people who loved him like john hay woke up at 89 from a dream about seeing him in the white house again weeping, 89 years old. i mean, people didn't survive that loss. it must have been, i mean, it's hard to if you've just studied lincoln it's hard to think about that night. to have known him and to have been through that, of course, and her more than anyone else except maybe tad it's just an unbearable loss. >> i loved the way the film gives us some vivid scenes of real politics in the 19th century, you know, the vituperation, the personal attacks, the picturesque language. and i think almost everyone's favorite scene is when the radical congressman thaddeus stevens, tommy lee jones, demolishes one of his pro slavery opponents. here it is. >> how can i hold that all men are created equal when here before me stands, stinking, the
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moral carcass of the gentlemen from ohio, proof that some men are inferior, endowed by their maker with dim wits impermeable to reason, with cold, pallid slime in their veins instead of hot, red blood. you are more reptile than man george. so low and flat that the foot of man is incapable of crushing you. >> george pendleton in lincoln: how dare you! >> his words or yours? >> oh, god, it's that speech is an amalgam of me, thaddeus stevens and, bluff wade from the senate. i think the reptile thing is actually wade's, but stevens was capable of that kind of invective when he got angry. >> were you surprised to discover that the author of the gettysburg address and the second inaugural was as good as the rest of them in twisting arms and in understanding that politics often had to use
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underhanded tactics to achieve a great purpose? >> no -- >> you weren't? >> i mean, it's surprising how much better than the rest of them he was. i mean, you just see these-- letters of advice from all of his various secretaries. i mean, you should do this and you shouldn't do that, and they're almost always wrong. what he did works so often in this incredibly complicated and terrifying situation that he was in. but you know, politics is not an expression of personal purity. i mean, first of all i'm a writer and i know writers, so i know that some really, really magnificent writer has been done by some, you know, deeply flawed human beings. >> no. >> and so i don't think that beauty comes necessarily from beautiful people. i think he was a very beautiful man in every way, but -- and a very beautiful soul. but politics is -- emerson says it's the-- movement of the soul
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illustrated in power. i mean, but power is about -- and especially the power in a democracy is about negotiation and compromise and manipulation and maneuvering. and barack obama, who i admire immensely, had to give the public option up and hand certain concessions to people like bart stupak in order to get the affordable care act through. and i thought that was lincolnian. he had to say for four years, "i'm evolving towards same sex marriage," before he could say, "i believe in same sex marriage." but you knew of course barack obama in 2007 understood the difference between secular marriage and religious marriage. and of course he believed that gay men and lesbians should marry on the same equal legal footing. he couldn't say it then. and he took four years. and when he picked the moment to say it, it was the exact perfect moment to say it. and it worked and it happened. and it's a history changing thing. >> i was going to ask you about that, i'm glad you brought it up, i was going to ask you because you and your partner, your husband, were the first gay
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married couple to appear in the new york times vows column. yet, here was obama whom you were supporting cautious, holding back, letting others take the lead, not saying anything to publicly reinforce the commitment you had made. >> i understand that politics in a democracy -- and we didn't elect a king in 2008, we elected a president. and you know, that doesn't mean that and it's also so infuriating to me when people go on about how obama really believes that the only way to do this is so bipartisan and that he's still waiting for john boehner and mitch mcconnell to become decent. of course he doesn't think that. but he knows that he's not mitt romney saying 47% of the country are people that i have nothing to do with and i don't care about. he knows that he's the president of the people of the united states which includes 47 percent ironically who voted for mitt romney. and so you know, you have to be
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able to say, well, why is the first african american man to run for the office of president not willing to say as he's running for president, "oh, and by the way i believe in gay marriage in 2008." i get it. it's easy to understand that. and if what that means is that i have to wait for the day that a president says, "i believe in same sex marriage," i'm willing to wait. and i waited and he said it. this man believes what we believe and i actually got a chance to say this to him. >> to obama? >> that, you know, lincoln at one point in the lincoln-douglas was disappointed when douglas made a particularly racist speech. he said, "stephen knows better than this. he's blown the moral lights out." and that moved me enormously when i read that. the job of the president is both to make the compromises necessary to actually have things happen in a democracy which means compromising and at a slower pace than anybody would necessarily like, people who understand what needs to be changed. at the same time he has to keep telling us where we're going, what we're trying to arrive at.
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and i think that obama has done an astonishing job of doing that over and over and over again, of reminding us that government is a good thing, of reminding us that we're a country where people have to work together, that we're not a group of insanely isolated individuals who happen to live on the same, you know, piece of land and you know, that we share responsibility for one another because without that shared responsibility our own lives are destroyed. i mean, i think he's articulated beautifully what the far horizon needs to be. and he's asking people to join him in building a movement that will help get us there. and we've lost a lot of ground in the last 40 years. >> i've been critical of obama for being too cautious and not fighting hard enough in his first term. but i was also conscious in watching the film that like lincoln he seems aware of the process of democracy. >> listen, i mean, you know, i think that the left at this point and progressive people have a complicated job which is to figure out how we do our jobs as citizens of saying, you know,
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the drone strikes are terrifying. the drones are a terrifying new weapon, and how is this to be used responsibly? and guantanamo still being in operation is a horrifying thing and why is this -- you know, there's a lot -- why are we still leasing deep water offshore oil wells and nuclear power plants and so on. but at the same time that level of criticism has to allow for the possibility that during election cycles people who have maybe not done everything we wanted them to do can get re-elected so that we can build a power base so that we can actually do things. and i think we have a balancing act. and i think we've gotten unused to that balance we've spent the entire years of the reagan counterrevolution out of power. and so we've become critics. but it's nonsense.
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you can't pretend that wall street doesn't have horrendously strong and undue influence on the country. but if you want to get regulation of the financial sector you're going to have to unfortunately to some extent work with wall street. because if you go in naively, you'll find out very quickly how much of what happens in this country wall street controls. and one thing i love about obama is that he is absolutely not naive. and you know, you don't get elected president, when you're a black guy if you're naive. this man -- you know, i couldn't get elected, you know, dogcatcher in my building. he's managed this miracle, he's re-elected american president. >> and yet in some of your recent speeches, you keep telling young people to agitate, agitate, agitate. >> no, that's -- >> i think you said to them if you don't commit and get active, the world's going to end. >> absolutely, well, and i believe that. i believe that literally.
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i used to say that hyperbolically, but now with climate change i believe that absolutely literally. but being active as a citizen doesn't mean being, you know, sort of mindlessly in opposition. and you know, anarchism's much more romantic than, you know, electoral politics. you get to wear sexier clothing and hang out in parks and, you know, really scream about the revolution, and that's thrilling. but if you don't actually believe that we're in a revolutionary moment and if you've read the history of revolution you might have some questions to ask about what comes often out of violent revolution. i'm not saying that i don't believe in revolution, but i think that there's some questions to be asked. apart from the sort of romance of revolution and the glamour of it and the hope that it brings because it gives us the sense that evil can be done away with instantaneously, what is, you know, what lincoln said, "the last best hope of mankind is democracy, is electoral politics." and that means licking -- oh,
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well, nobody licks envelopes anymore, but figuring out e-mails chains and so on. and it's boring and it's tedious and it's harder to do than i think when you're young than when you're an old person like me. but the abandonment by the left of the possibility of radical change through democracy which ironically because, i think, of the vietnam war happened at the apogee of the democratic process as an engine for change, at the moment of the civil rights -- african american civil rights movement culminating in the voting rights act, civil rights act, the beginning of the great society. and then the left said, "you know what? democracy doesn't work. let's take to the streets." well, always take to the streets, but always make sure that there are people in the halls of power who can listen to what you're saying on the streets and say, "okay, i get it. i'm going to do something about this." which means surrendering to some degree the romance of revolution. i hope that i'm not less radical in terms of what i'd like to see transformed.
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i believe that we can live in a more economically and socially just world than we live in. i think we have to save the planet and i think that's going to call for enormous sacrifice and a transformation of society where we really come to terms with what has to happen in order to stop global warming or reverse it. >> and can that happen without a mass movement? what lincoln did he did because before him and behind him were the abolitionists, the radicals, the feminists, the women who were beginning their own longing and agitation. >> and millions of slaves -- >> millions of slaves as well. in fact, there's been some criticism that the film presents blacks simply as faithful servants waiting for white males to liberate them when in fact one historian wrote, "lincoln had to encounter some of those swarms of fugitive slaves who had come into washington to agitate for abolition. and yet the only blacks who show up in the film, are the two servants in the white house who by the way were active in the
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agitation in town for further and more radical action." >> there was outside of the white house -- about a block away on 15th street -- a contraband camp called murder bay where people who had formerly been slaves, who had fled slavery had come to washington looking for shelter really. and they were living out in the open in terrible conditions. there's absolutely no way of knowing, lincoln never mentions the contraband camp. it's basically not known. and i didn't know what to make of that, if i tried scenes of him going in and having long conversations. but the truth of the matter is -- and i think that film is very honest about this, and many of these critics overlook this, lincoln didn't know any black people, he really didn't. you know, we decided to make a movie about amending the constitution to prohibit slavery before the end of the war. it's a decision that lincoln made that he clearly felt was an important decision. when the amendment passed he signed it even though presidents don't sign the amendment because
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he was so proud of it. and he called it a king's cure for all the evils. and i think more than the emancipation proclamation as thaddeus stevens said is the greatest measure of the 19th century. so we wanted to celebrate the fact that that happened. we wanted to celebrate the fact that it happened in the house of representatives, one of the least popular organs of government ever in human history but which can do amazing things. and we wanted to tell the story truthfully which meant that we were dealing with a bunch of white guys in this ugly little town, muddy, crummy little southern town surrounded by the civil war -- none of them had slaves, none of them had ever owned slaves, or almost none of them. they had no direct experience with slavery which is true of so many of the northerners who fought the civil war. they didn't like black people, they didn't really have strong feelings maybe about slavery. but they knew enough to know that slavery had to go. and they somehow or other, both by hook and by crook, rose to their historical purpose and got rid of it.
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and i think that's a story worth telling. is it less important the house of representatives in january of 1865 abolished -- helped abolish slavery? i don't know that it is. i don't accept the idea that the only thing to tell about emancipation is that the victims of oppression are always the authors of their own emancipation because it's not the case. frequently people that are severely put upon and severely oppressed don't have the means. they're ordinary people and they don't have the means to rise up and destroy it on their own which is why we have things like the 14th amendment and democracy and a democracy that protects minorities against majoritarian tyranny. we've refined society to the point where you don't have to die in order to have your rights. and that's an important story, too. >> you are more than a political junkie. your heart seems always in politics in one way or the
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other. is that right? >> because i feel that, you know, i'm a jew, i'm a gay man. maybe because i'm a southerner, because i'm an american, i think that, you know, all of the various fields of human inquiry -- theology and philosophy and morality and psychology meet rather beautifully in politics. and sometimes i wonder if politics isn't exactly that, it's the taking of all the sort of great ineffable and trying to make them have some meaning in the actually historical moment on earth in which we live. and so i find politics deeply fascinating for that reason. and i also know, you know, i think it's a mistake to think about the holocaust and not to think of its place in a political history, not to think of it as this kind of horrible realization of the worst dreams of the german right -- and to think of it as being something removed from history. it wasn't, it wasn't a magical event. it was a historical event.
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had the socialists and the communists, the social democrats and communists in germany made common cause in '32, hitler came, the nazis began to lose power and hindenburg wouldn't have made him chancellor had he not, you know, had a strong showing. had they made common cause they could have possibly prevented the reich from happening. so there's a lot at stake in politics. the fate of the world now hangs i mean, literally hangs in the balance. that's not just hyperbole if we don't fix the planetary catastrophe, we're doomed as a species. and the solution to that is not going to be mystical. the solution to it i believe is going to be political, so we have to get political. >> tony kushner, this has been a wonderful conversation. >> thank you. >> i appreciate very much your being with me. >> i love speaking with you, so. >> thank you.
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♪ around this time four years ago, shortly before barack obama entered the white house, we asked you to send us your book list for the new president, what you thought he should read as he prepared for the highest office. now president obama's getting ready for his second term. time for a new list. what one book should be on his desk or bedside table? share your thoughts at our website, coming up on "moyers & company," another pulitzer prize winning writer, junot díaz, on the old and new america. >> the biggest megaphones want to talk about the person on top. they want to talk about the hero, the winner. but the little megaphones, you're in a library with your librarian, you're working at the church in the basement, helping folks out, you're coming in to a home and reading to elderly. there are all these other little megaphones that are telling you and whispering that "this is
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beauty, this is humanity, this is america." >> that's it for this week. i'll see you next time. -- captions by vitac -- don't wait a week to get more moyers. visit for exclusive blogs and essays. this episode is available on dvd for $19.95. to order, call 1-800-336-1917 or write to the address on your screen. funding is provided by carnegie corporation of new y k
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york. the kohlberg foundation. independent production fund, with support from the partridge foundation, a john and polly guth charitable fund. the clements foundation. park foundation, dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues. the herb alpert foundation, supporting organizations whose mission is to promote compassion and creativity in our society. the bernard and audre rapoport foundation. the john d. and catherine t. macarthur foundation, committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. more information at anne gumowitz. the betsy and jesse fink foundation. the hkh foundation. barbara g. fleischman. and by our sole corporate sponsor, mutual of america, designing customized individual and group retirement products. that's why we're your retirement and group retirement products. that's why we're your retirement company.
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♪ingle bells, jingle bells narrator: coming up, it's everyone's favorite christmas present-- a monkey. ♪ ... open sleigh. (laughing) (george hooting, man gasping) man: it's what george wants for christmas, and i have to figure it out. whoa! wow! oh, no! (grunting) (bell ringing) stop! (hooting) man: yes, george. it's christmas. funding for curious george is provided by contributions to your pbs station... ooh. ...and from: ooh! (chuckles) hi! ooh! oh!


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